A celebration of free speech at William & Mary College in Virginia took an unexpected turn last week when protesters from Black Lives Matter swarmed the stage and forced organizers to end the event.
“Liberalism is white supremacy!” the protesters shouted, and “ACLU, you protect Hitler too!”
The disruption occurred before Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, could give a planned speech on freedom of expression.
The protesters livestreamed the demonstration on Facebook and were heard shouting other slogans, including, “The oppressed are not impressed!,” “Blood on your hands!,” and “The revolution will not uphold the Constitution!”
The ACLU earned the wrath of the protesters after they defended white supremacists’ right to march in Charlottesville, Va., in August, according to the campus’s Flat Hat News. The march in Charlottesville quickly turned violent, leading to the death of one woman and injuries to many others.
Gastañaga tried to point out to the disruption as an example of why she needs to talk about freedom of expression on university campuses, saying “Good, I like this,” as the protesters raised their signs.
“I’m going to talk to you about knowing your rights, and protests and demonstrations, which this illustrates very well,” she said. “Then I’m going to respond to questions from the moderators, and then questions from the audience.”
But the protesters continued the disruption and barred anyone from approaching Gastañaga to speak. One organizer reportedly granted the demonstration’s leader a chance to speak.
“When is the free speech of the oppressed protected? We know from personal experience that rights granted to wealthy, white, cis, male, straight bodies do not trickle down to marginalized groups. We face greater barriers and consequences for speaking,” the protester said.
William & Mary College President Taylor Reveley issued a statement afterward, saying silencing others was “not acceptable in our community.”
“This stifles debate and prevents those who’ve come to hear a speaker, our students in particular, from asking questions, often hard questions, and from engaging in debate where the strength of ideas, not the power of shouting, is the currency,” he added.
“William & Mary must be a campus that welcomes difficult conversations, honest debate and civil dialogue.”